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The BBQ Smokehouse opens to large crowds

It might be the Lenten season, but judging by the crowd at The BBQ Smokehouse, the Wadena community still has a voracious appetite for meat.

The restaurant opened March 24 along Highway 10 and 2nd Street Northwest in a vacant building that's been home to several restaurants. For $6.50 plus tax, customers can buy a single daily special that includes a featured meat item (brisket pulled pork, etc.) and couple of sides. Open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., The BBQ Smokehouse also sells fresh meat (steaks, ribs, whole chickens, etc.), along with burgers, sausages, brats, beef sticks and jerky produced on site.

So far, business has been "crazy good," said owner Tyler Ehrmantraut. "I knew it was going to be big, but I had no idea how big. It's been mindboggling."

Ehrmantraut got his start in the meat business making sausage for 10 years at a Wadena grocery store.

For the last five years, he and his son Colter have operated TC Backyard BBQ, serving up pork, chicken and beef for weddings, family reunions, graduation parties and other events. They've also participated in regional BBQ competitions. Last year, the pair was named Grand Champions of the Northstar BBQ circuit.

After years of planning, Ehrmantraut took the next step. The BBQ Smokehouse's large kitchen allows him to sell hot meals each day, make his own packaged meats for sale and prepare food for catered events - all in a single location.

"It's always sort of been a dream of mine," Ehrmantraut said.

The BBQ Smokehouse is a family operation. Ehrmantraut's kids help out as needed while his father serves as chief butcher. His fiance, Kari Kapphahn, co-manages the restaurant. She's also responsible for the popular macaroni salad recipe.

Ehrmantraut's custom creations include the BBQ sauce and "cowboy beans."

"They've always been a big hit," he said.

Right now, he's working on a potato salad recipe.

In addition to running the restaurant and catering businesses, Ehrmantraut drives truck full time for Mason Brothers.

Noting his average of more than 300 customers a day, he said, "If it stays like this, I'll be putting in my notice."